For James S. "Hillman 1944"

Discussion in 'Royal Engineers' started by sapper, Mar 31, 2011.

  1. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    This was the introduction that Arthur Heal RE. C de G allowed me to use, as an introduction to the book I wrote and produced for family and close friends.

    An introduction by Lt A Heal. R.E. C de G.
    Tuesday, 6th June, 1944 was to be, for me and many others, a defining moment. Our first taste of active service face to face with the enemy, and life would never be the same again.

    It was the climax of months of arduous training, mainly in the North of Scotland, often in atrocious weather conditions. During numerous amphibious exercises I was invariably seasick, and I could hardly realise my good fortune that I was one of the very few who was not sick on D Day, despite being tossed about in a L.C.A. on the run-in.
    I was further pleasantly surprised having moved off the beach and inland towards Colleville-sur-Orne to find myself and my party of Sappers still in one piece. Before embarking at Southsea we had been told that casualties on the initial assault were likely to be very heavy!

    My unit 246 Field Company, R.E. 3rd British Infantry Division was scheduled to support 8 Brigade in its assault on Sword (Green) Beach. The company provided each of the three battalions with small teams of 4 or 5 sappers and I found myself in command of mine clearance teams supporting 1 Suffolk, landing at 08.25 hours. Each team carried mine detectors, plastic H.E. and grenades.

    Two of my colleagues Lieutenants Edwards and Trench gave similar support to the assault battalions 1 South Lancs and 2 East Yorks respectively, with mine clearance and demolition teams.

    1 Suffolk’s principle objectives were the clearance of the village of Colleville-sur-Orne, and the capture of the two German strong points code-named ‘Morris’ and ‘Hillman’. The day’s events have been well documented throughout the years, particularly by Lt.-Col. Lummis, an officer in the battalion on D-Day in his “1 Suffolk on D-Day”
    “Morris” surrendered very quickly, but the initial assault on “Hillman” having failed, I was ordered, in the nicest possible way, by the C.O. of the battalion, Lt.-Col. Goodwin to clear a path through the perimeter minefield so that tanks could enter the locality.

    During training in Scotland I made sure that we could all recognise and disarm any mine we were likely to find. I was therefore disconcerted that I could not identify the first mine that I uncovered. It turned out to be an obsolete British Mk.11 anti-tank mine left behind at Dunkirk in 1940. However, lying flat. on the ground, and with the help of covering fire and smoke from the tanks of the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the assault company this was achieved by the early evening. “The final clearance of Hillman” is described in Norman Scarfe’s “Assault Division” as a “grisly business”. It was only much later that it was appreciated what a formidable obstacle “Hillman” had been.

    Now, more than fifty years on, I feel great pride in having played a very small part in what is now recognised as the greatest combined military operation of all time. Pride is tinged with sadness at seeing so many friends killed and wounded, in many cases before even reaching the water’s edge. For example Eric Lummis “1 Suffolk” records that of the 43 officers and warrant officers in the battalion on D-Day, 13 were killed and 26 wounded by the end of the campaign.
    I am also privileged to have played a small part in the restoration of “Hillman” to provide a permanent memorial to those of the battalion and supporting arms who lost their lives on D-Day and subsequently. There is nowa strong continuing link between the village of Colleville-Montgomery and the Suffolk Regiment which is formalised by regular exchange visits and by the naming of the road leading up to “Hillman” as Rue du-Suffolk Regiment.
    Events on D-Day show yet again, that in time of war ordinary individuals perform extraordinary deeds.

    W.S. / Lieutenant Arthur HEAL, 259749, 246 Field Company,
    During the attack on COLLEVILLE-SUR-ORNE, FRANCE, on 6th June1944, it was necessary to clear a forty yard lane in the perimeter minefield to enable tanks to enter the locality. The gap was under enemy small arms and mortar fire. This officer commanded the assault engineer platoon supporting the attacking Battalion. He organised and personally carried out the clearing of the gap under very heavy mortar and machine-gun fire, from short range.

    During the whole of this period the work had to be carried out lying flat on the ground. It was entirely due to his work that the tanks were able to enter the locality and destroy the enemy. Throughout the operation he set a splendid example to all ranks, his exceptional courage and determination in this action being a major factor in its ultimate success.
  2. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


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